Mental Health Humanities: Activities

Our past, present and future research interests are wide-ranging and take a broad yet critical view of health and illness, the humanities, and mental health specifically. See below for examples of some of our members’ activities. 

A drawing of hands with tangled coloured thread

Hareth Al-Janabi

Current project: Investing in mental health promotion across the life-course (Wellcome Trust Investigator Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences). This project will investigate how schools and workplaces influence people’s mental health through in-depth interviews and focus groups with staff. As part of these discussions, we will ask about what resources, such as people, money, information and space, are needed and how investment decisions were made. This research will provide insights for policy makers about how to support, regulate and incentivise the provision of mental health promotion. 

Lisa Bortolotti

Current project: Agency, Justice and Social Identity in Youth Mental Health, a collaborative research project with young people and academics in Philosophy, Ethics and Neuroscience (MRC/AHRC/ESRC Engagement Award, Co-I, with PI Rose McCabe). Completed projects include The Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions (AHRC Leadership Fellowship) and Project PERFECT (ERC Consolidator, @epistinnocence). Research interests include the limitations of human cognition and human agency, faulty reasoning and irrational beliefs, delusions, confabulations, distorted memories, unreliable self narratives, self deception, unrealistic optimism and other positive illusions. Bortolotti is also interested in the philosophy of medicine and how health, wellbeing, rationality, and agency interact.

Sarah Carr

Current projects: Principal Investigator for a NIHR School for Social Care Research funded, user-controlled study on avoidable harm in adult mental health social care. Co-investigator for the ‘Open Dialogue: Development and Evaluation of a Social Network Intervention for Severe Mental Illness (ODDESSI)’ study, the first trial of Open Dialogue in the NHS in England. Co-investigator for NIHR Mental Health Policy Research Unit and for the UKRI Loneliness, Social Isolation in Mental Health Network. Formerly Co-investigator for a Wellcome Trust funded investigation into the treatment of female homosexuality in England 1950-1990.

Melissa Dickson

Current project: Communicating Climate Chaos (British Academy/Royal Irish Academy Seed Funding). Current interests include explorations of the body’s physiological and psychological responses to sound and music in the nineteenth century. Dickson is also one of the co-founders of MindReading, an international collaboration exploring fruitful connections between literature and psychiatry.

Elliot Evans

Current projects: a comparative study of the visual language of HIV/AIDS in France and North America; Critical Sexology; and the biopolitics of transgender subjectivity. Research interests include 20th and 21st century literature, visual art and theory, particularly the intersections of feminist, queer and transgender theories. 

Karen Harvey

Current project: Material Identities, Social Bodies: Embodiment in British Letters c.1680-1820 (Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant). The project uses an empirical lens to historicise the boundaries between the biological and the social and the relationship between body and self, examining ‘embodiment’ as a relational and socially-situated process that combined language and corporeality. It is the first project to explore the thousands of British letters in which different correspondents - of family and kin, friendship, faith and business - discussed in detail their own and each other’s experiences of the physical body. 

Matt Hayler

Current project: human enhancement (3rd year course: Bringing Out the Bodies and current book project. Interests include posthumanism and transhumanism in philosophy, art, and contemporary and near-future professional and amateur industrial practice; digital cultures and digital humanities research and teaching; e-reading; materially experimental writing; weird fiction; critical theory; and the philosophies of technology and embodiment.

Vanessa Heggie

Current project: Race Science, Acclimatisation and Survival Physiology in the mid-20th century. (British Academy Small Research Grant). The project examines overlapping ideas about human acclimatisation and adaptation to changing environments, how these fed into broader theories about human evolution and race science, and how they co-opted indigenous peoples into civilian and military research. Heggie is also exploring opportunities to work on the history of health and big sporting events, and sports medicine - with an eye to the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Sabena Yasmin Jameel

Current work: General Practitioner/Family Medicine doctor in Inner City Birmingham. Medical Professionalism Lead and Quality Lead for the University of Birmingham Medical School. Senior Clinical Tutor for Personal Academic Tutoring. PhD Research on Enacted Practical Wisdom (Phronesis) in doctors. Current project: Phronesis as a concept rooted in Aristotelian Virtue Ethics with a goal of flourishing (Eudamonia). Understanding enacted wisdom by using biographic narratives. 

David James

Current project: Sentimental Activism (Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship). This considers the political and emotional valences of life-writing by nurses and doctors, examining how these works - which combine memoir and healthcare advocacy - rearticulate affective forms and principles of caregiving that cannot be captured by biomedical vocabularies. The project is also concerned with contemporary illness narratives (pathographies) and their critical potential for scrutinising the felt experiences of treatment, systemic inequities of healthcare, and the social perceptions of individual well-being. 

Dina Kiwan

Current project: Principal Investigator for the GCRF Network Plus ‘Disability Under Siege’ programme (AHRC), an interdisciplinary partnership with Co-Investigators in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.  The central challenge the team are addressing is that 85% of children with disabilities never even go to school.

Irina Kuznetsova

Current interests: migration, critical urbanism and health. Previous projects include investigating the social consequences of population displacement from Ukraine’s war-torn territories (AHRC), followed by research on mental health of internally displaced people in Ukraine (Wellcome Trust). She also led a project with the Universities of Rwanda and Lagos to examine mental health, the well-being and coping tactics of displaced people in Rwanda and Nigeria (Academy of Medical Sciences GCRF Networking Grant).

Jeannette Littlemore

Current project: Improving communication with parents or carers who have lost a child (The True Colours Trust). The project is designed to help healthcare practitioners, registrars and funeral directors to support parents or carers who have lost a child. This includes interviewing parents or carers who have lost a child about their experiences. It focuses both on the experience of the loss itself, the kind of communication they had with professionals, including healthcare professionals, registrars and funeral directors.

James Pugh

Current project: A Very Modern Molecule: Britain’s Amphetamine Moment, 1935–1964 (provisional title, monograph), a project exploring the social, cultural and military history of amphetamines and modern Britain from the 1930s to the 1960s. 

Jessica Pykett

Current interests: the intersections of neuroscience and geography, concepts of urban stress and urban wellbeing, and political geographies of emotional regulation. Recent work includes Bodies 2.0, a 2018 IAS workshop (with Visiting Fellow, Dr Mark Paterson [University of Pittsburgh]), on embodied processes and technologies in the flows of urban capitalism. This included contributions from researchers in History, English Literature, Geography, Applied Health, Education and Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Max Saunders

Current projects: Future Thinking, drawing on the 1920s To-Day and To-Morrow series of often visionary predictions, involving early responses to psychoanalysis; and exploring what helps or blocks thinking about possible futures. Completing a five-year ERC-funded collaborative project (involving life-writing, neurology, sociolinguistics, and digital humanities) called ‘Ego-Media’, on the impact of digital media on self-presentation. Also editing Ford Madox Ford’s letters, including those written while undergoing ‘nerve cures’ in Germany.

Lyndsey Stonebridge

Current project: Rights4Time. (Co-I, AHRC GCRF Network Plus), a research network led by PI Heather Flowe at the University of Birmingham that consists of multiple interdisciplinary projects across Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Rwanda. The network aims to bring the hidden legacies of conflict directly into humanitarian protection, and human rights policy and practice. Importantly, it also includes a strong focus on trauma.

Ema Sullivan-Bissett

Current project: Deluded by Experience (AHRC early-career Research Grant, with Co-I Paul Noordhof [York]), a project based in Philosophy collaborating psychiatrists and psychologists and partnering with Headway Birmingham and Solihull and the IMH. It focuses on monothematic delusions, and through this the nature of experience, belief, and the characterisation of everyday human irrationality rooted in motivational factors. Evidence-resistant beliefs based upon particularly striking experiences in daily life - relating to crime, immigrant groups, and economic decline - are on the rise. If this is the age of delusions, we would do well to better understand its development.

Henry Taylor

Current project: a book on natural kinds in psychology and psychiatry. Clinicians diagnose patients with various conditions (e.g. depression). But how should we understand these conditions? Are they just like biological cases of illness, like diabetes, or cholera? Or, when we diagnose patients with these conditions, are we just saying that they deviate from some socially accepted norm? Or is the answer somehow in between? My view is that we should approach these questions with a thorough grounding in the philosophy of psychology and biology. By better understanding other psychological and biological categories, we will be in a strong position to assess the ways in which psychiatric conditions are different.

Rachel Upthegrove

Previous project: developed and ran the ‘Psychiatry and The Arts’ Intercalated BMedSc module with Professor Femi Oyebode from 2005-2020, teaching the importance of literature in psychiatry to a generation of medical students.

Jonathan Willis

Current project: provisionally entitled ‘Lost Voices of the Elizabethan Age’, it examines a collection of letters archived in the English State Papers during the reign of Elizabeth I, from individuals who were labelled (by the contemporary compilers of the archive) as mad, distracted, insane, frenzied, etc. In working with these documents, I have become interested in the impact/relationship of the political and emotional trauma of living through the English reformation on people’s mental health, and in particular how the experience of religious change may have helped to inflect the ways in which these letter-writers communicated with those in authority and interpreted their personal problems and the world around them. 

Rebecca Wynter

Current project: Forged by Fire: Burns Injury and Identity in Britain, c.1800-2000 (Postdoctoral Research Fellow led by PI Jonathan Reinarz, AHRC Research Grant). Wynter is also involved the project, Contagion and Mental Health in Historical Context (a COVID-19 Project Award led by the University of Huddersfield with Dr Rob Ellis and Dr Rob Light) and a Co-convenor of the Institute for Historical Research Partnership Seminar, Spaces of Sickness and Wellbeing: histories of art, architecture and experience.